Prenatal care: Basic Information & Proper care

picture of prenatal care

What is Prenatal care?

Prenatal care is the health care you get while you are pregnant. It includes your checkups and prenatal testing. Prenatal care can help keep you and your baby healthy. It lets your health care provider spot health problems early. Early treatment can cure many problems and prevent others.

Your doctor or midwife will give you a schedule for your prenatal visits. If you are over 35 years old or your pregnancy is high risk because of health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure, your doctor or midwife will probably want to see you more often. You can also expect to see your health care provider more often as your due date gets closer.

Why do I need prenatal care?

Prenatal care can help keep you and your baby healthy. Babies of mothers who do not get prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and five times more likely to die than those born to mothers who do get care.

Doctors can spot health problems early when they see mothers regularly. This allows doctors to treat them early. Early treatment can cure many problems and prevent others. Doctors also can talk to pregnant women about things they can do to give their unborn babies a healthy start to life.

First Prenatal Care Visit

The first prenatal care visit is usually the longest. The examination is very thorough. You will be asked questions about your medical history. You will also be asked about your partner’s medical history and your family’s medical history. You will have a complete physical exam. Your health care provider will measure your height, weight, blood pressure, breathing, and pulse.

Usually, you will be given a gynecological exam that will include

  • a breast exam
  • a Pap test
  • tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea

You may be offered blood or skin tests to check for

  • anemia including sickle cell anemia
  • blood type
  • certain inherited diseases, such as Gaucher’s and Tay-Sachs
  • cystic fibrosis
  • hepatitis
  • HIV/AIDS
  • rubella
  • syphilis
  • thalassemia
  • tuberculosis

You may also be given urine tests to check for diabetes or other infections.

Your health care provider may take this opportunity to discuss your lifestyle and habits and to suggest certain changes that may help make the pregnancy healthy. One of the most important things a woman can do is to take folic acid  a B vitamin  every day to prevent serious birth defects.

picture of prenatal care

Subsequent Prenatal Care Visits

often scheduled about every four weeks during the first trimester will probably be shorter than the first. Your health care provider will check your weight and blood pressure, and you’ll discuss any concerns.

Near the end of the first trimester by about nine to 12 weeks of pregnancy you might be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a small device that bounces sound waves off your baby’s heart (Doppler).

Remember, your health care provider is there to support you throughout your pregnancy. Your prenatal appointments are an ideal time to discuss any questions or concerns including things that might be uncomfortable or embarrassing.

Also find out how to reach your health care provider between appointments. Knowing help is available when you need it can offer precious peace of mind.

What is Prenatal Testing?

Your health care provider may offer you certain tests during your pregnancy. These tests are used to make sure that you are healthy and the fetus is doing well. Some tests identify possible birth defects.The different tests are done at certain times. Your health care provider will let you know what tests you may want or need, and when you will need them.

Some common prenatal tests for birth defects and other abnormalities include

  • ultrasound
  • multiple marker screening
  • CVS chorionic villus sampling
  • amniocentesis

Another common test is the biophysical profile (BPP). It is most commonly given during the third trimester. The BPP uses ultrasound combined with a fetal monitor to observe fetal heartbeat and movement. BPP allows your health care provider to evaluate the well-being of the fetus.

What is an Ultrasound?

Ultrasound allows a health care provider to take pictures of the embryo or fetus as it develops. An ultrasound scan builds a picture of the embryo or fetus on a screen by bouncing sound waves into your uterus. Ultrasound is also called a sonogram. Depending on when it is done during pregnancy, it may

  • confirm your due date
  • find certain abnormalities
  • find multiple pregnancies
  • measure the length of your cervix
  • show the position and size of the fetus
  • show the position of the placenta

Ultrasound is a very safe procedure no x-rays are involved.

Between 11 and 13 weeks of pregnancy, some providers combine a blood test with a special kind of ultrasound. Some providers refer to this as the combined test. It is used to screen for Down syndrome and other genetic birth defects.

picture of prenatal care

How Ultrasound is Done

There are two ways to do an ultrasound through the abdomen or through the vagina. Ultrasounds may be performed by your health care provider or by a trained ultrasound technician.

During an abdominal ultrasound, your provider will place the ultrasound wand on your abdomen, using a small amount of gel to help lubricate the area. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.

During a vaginal ultrasound, your provider will insert the ultrasound wand into the vagina. This may feel similar to a vaginal exam. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.

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